He had fully made up his mind what his wishes were to be, for he was determined not to be taken by surprise. He knew well the fate of those foolish persons in the fairy tales who offend their benevolent protectors by bouncing against them head foremost, as it were, with a greedy cry for wealth.
Nils was not going to be caught that way. He would ask first for wisdom--that was what all right-minded heroes did--then for good repute among men, and lastly--and here was the rub--lastly he was inclined to ask for a five-bladed knife, like the one the parson's Thorwald had got for a Christmas present.
But he had considerable misgiving about the expediency of this last wish. If he had a fair renown and wisdom, might he not be able to get along without a five-bladed pocket-knife? But no; there was no help for it. Without that five-bladed pocket-knife neither wisdom nor fame would satisfy him. It would be the drop of gall in his cup of joy.
After many days' pondering, it occurred to him, as a way out of the difficulty, that it would, perhaps, not offend the Hulder if he asked, not for wealth, but for a moderate prosperity. If he were blessed with a moderate prosperity, he could, of course, buy a five-bladed pocket-knife with corkscrew and all other appurtenances, and still have something left over.
He had a dreadful struggle with this question, for he was well aware that the proper things to wish were long life and happiness for his father and mother, or something in that line. But, though he wished his father and mother well, he could not make up his mind to forego his own precious chances on their account. Moreover, he consoled himself with the reflection that if he attained the goal of his own desires he could easily bestow upon them, of his bounty, a reasonable prospect of long life and happiness.
You see Nils was by no means so good yet as he ought to be. He was clever enough to perceive that he had small chance of seeing the Hulder, as long as his heart was full of selfishness and envy and greed.
For, strive as he might, he could not help feeling envious of the parson's Thorwald, with his elaborate combination pocket-knife and his silver watch-chain, which he unfeelingly flaunted in the face of an admiring community. It was small consolation for Nils to know that there was no watch but only a key attached to it; for a silver watch-chain, even without a watch, was a sufficiently splendid possession to justify a boy in fording it over his less fortunate comrades.
Nils's father, who was a poor charcoal-burner, could never afford to make his son such a present, even if he worked until he was as black as a chimney-sweep. For what little money he earned was needed at once for food and clothes for the family; and there were times when they were obliged to mix ground birch-bark with their flour in order to make it last longer.